UW’s COVID-19 Vaccine update: pre-clinical testing starting soon

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In the midst of the global pandemic, COVID-19 demands urgent action. Here at UW, researchers are developing a nasal spray vaccine that will begin pre-clinical testing in a few weeks. 

“The current environment has been highly demanding and highly rewarding,” Dr. Roderick Slavcev, co-founder and CEO of Theraphage, the biotechnology company behind the vaccine, said. 

“We are just getting set for the pre-clinical trials that will be starting in 2 to 3 weeks.” 

The pre-clinical trials will be taking place at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon, SK. 

This astonishingly early milestone in the research process is a result of the combined efforts of Dr. Slavcev and Dr. Emmanuel Ho from UW’s School of Pharmacy, as well as Dr. Marc Aucoin from UW’s School of Chemical Engineering, alongside many graduate students. 

Slavcev describes the vaccine as both a “prophylactic and therapeutic response to COVID-19.” In other words, this novel vaccine that will be applied non-invasively as a nasal spray, and can both immunize and treat the virus. 

Using new Theraphage technology, the vaccine follows the “bacteriophage” process,  producing virus-like particles (VLPs) similar in structure to SARS-COV-2. What makes this vaccine truly unique is that it combines both the DNA and VLP approaches to developing a vaccine.

Slavcev mentioned that this virus may also have a greater universal potential. 

“The way this is designed is to not only be effective against COVID-19 and SARS-COV-2, but even subsequent forms of SARS or even former forms like SARS or MERS,” Dr. Slavcev said.

Most of this research has been done virtually and lab work conducted independently in order to practice physical distancing. Regardless of the challenging circumstances, Slavcev is proud of the multidisciplinary and collaborative effort of the professors and students.

“From this point forward, I don’t think I’ll be working on any project that isn’t multidisciplinary,” Dr. Slavcev said. 

The multidisciplinary approach is not limited to UW as faculties and institutions around the globe are sharing their research in the effort to find a vaccine. Slavcev shared that their research has benefited from international cooperation.  

“This is a revolutionary time,” Dr. Slavcev remarked. “The ability to collaborate across borders and within borders has been rather amazing.”

Currently, the focus is to make sure everything is ready for pre-clinical trials. If that runs smoothly, phase one human trials are the next step and could begin as early as January 2021. 

Slavcev and his team have already been approached by, and have been able to work with, a number of different commercial and academic partners. 

If all operations are carried out flawlessly – from clinical trials to FDA regulations – Slavcev and his team predict the vaccine may be ready by mid to end of 2021. 

“There are a lot of things that could still occur in that time,” Dr. Slavcev noted. “You just have to keep your head up, and keep pushing as best as we can.”

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